Explained | FIFA World Cup 2022: The story behind the OneLove armband, and Qatar’s laws against homosexuality


The story so far: FIFA on Tuesday disallowed players at the FIFA World Cup 2022 underway in Qatar from wearing OneLove armbands during matches. The captains of ten European football teams, including Belgium, Denmark, Germany, England, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Wales, Sweden, and Switzerland, had planned to wear the armbands, which protest various forms of discrimination, during the tournament.

In a joint statement, the captains of England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Denmark said they will not wear OneLove armbands after FIFA made it clear they would be booked for doing so. “You don’t want the captain to start the match with a yellow card. That is why it is with a heavy heart that we as a UEFA working group and as a team had to decide to abandon our plan,” the Dutch football association KNVB said in a statement.

According to the rules, team equipment must not have any political, religious, or personal slogans, statements, or images, and during FIFA Final Competitions, the captain of each team “must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA”.

Wales said the countries involved had been prepared to pay the fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations, but FIFA’s sporting sanctions threat took things too far.

The origin of OneLove

On November 17, 2019, SBV Excelsior footballer Ahmad Mendes Moreira, who hails from Guinea, was subjected to racial slurs during a match with FC Den Bosch at De Vliert stadium in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands. The incident shook the football fraternity and raised questions about the 2020 Euro Cup as well (the Cup was later postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic).

The OneLove campaign was launched in the Netherlands on September 26, 2020 as a direct response to the racist attack on Moreira. The campaign stood against all forms of discrimination,while focusing on the power of the sport to bring people together, in spite of all their differences.

OneLove is part of Ons Voetbal is van iedereen, which translates to “Our Football Belongs to Everyone”— an initiative launched in February 2020 to counter racism and discrimination in the sport. The idea that “football has the power to unite people” was inspired by a quote from Nelson Mandela, not only one of the greatest voices for equality in history but also an ardent football fan.

Launched by the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB), Eredivisie football league, and Kitchen Champion Division along with the Dutch national government, the project aims to eliminate racism and discrimination from football by focusing on three main pillars: prevention, identification, and sanctioning.

OneLove is one of 20 components of the “Our Football Belongs to Everyone” initiative. The red, black, and green colours on the OneLove logo symbolise race and origin, and the pink, yellow, and blue colours symbolise all gender identities and sexual orientations.

More than 60 football clubs and parties signed an open letter published at the launch of the OneLove campaign in 2020. It has since been embraced by the Dutch national men’s and women’s football teams. Captains at various levels of football, from professional to amateurs, have been seen playing with the OneLove armband. In the 2021–22 KNVB Cup final, Ajax and PSV players also sported the OneLove logo.

Homosexuality in Qatar

Although the term homosexuality does not find explicit mention in Qatar’s 2004 penal code, sodomy in particular is punishable by law with imprisonment for a term of one to three years under Article 296. Same-sex relationships are also believed to be banned in the country under articles relating to adultery and crimes of honour. Articles 281 and 285 of the 2004 Qatar Penal Code penalise “copulation…without compulsion, duress or ruse” with a female or a male over sixteen respectively with imprisonment for a term up to seven years. Since the term “offender” is gender-neutral, the provisions cover same-sex relationships too. In certain cases, the penalty can be increased to life imprisonment or a prison term not exceeding fifteen years.

The Qatar Penal Code also punishes “inducing or seducing a male or a female in any way to commit illegal or immoral actions” with imprisonment ranging from one to three years, although what constitutes “illegal or immoral actions” is undefined, and hence subjective.

According to the Qatari Constitution, Islamic law is the main source of legislation, and the country also runs Sharia courts.

Ahead of the 2022 Fifa World Cup, in October 2022, Human Rights Watch reported that Qatar’s Preventive Security Department Forces arrested multiple members of the LGBTQ+ community and subjected them to “ill-treatment in detention”.

The 2019 report on State Sponsored Homophobia by ILGA World – the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association – mentions that death penalty is a possible punishment for homosexuality in Qatar, as well as in Mauritania, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

In 2016, Doha News published an article titled What it’s like to be gay and Qatari following the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in the U.S. earlier that year. The piece sparked an intense debate, and in a response piece, a Qatari netizen expressed that “homosexuality is not tolerated” in Qatar.

In July 2018, ABC News reported that Qatar was censoring coverage of LGBTQ+ rights from the Doha edition of the New York Times International Edition. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an American citizen in Qatar was sentenced to six months in prison and 90 lashes for “homosexual activity” in 1995. The sentence was carried out on June 6, 1995, and he was released from prison on July 22, 1995. He departed Qatar in March 1996. The USCIS also added that in 1998, Qatar deported more than 20 Filipino workers suspected of being gay.

In the United Nations, Qatar has voted against resolutions calling for protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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